THE EIGHTH PLAGUE.
(1-4) The eighth plague, like the third and fourth, was one where insect life was called in to serve God’s purposes, and chastise the presumption of His enemies. The nature of the visitation is uncontested and incontestable—it was a terrible invasion of locusts. Locusts are an occasional, though not a frequent, scourge in Egypt. They are not bred there, and necessarily arrive from some foreign country. When they descend, their ravages are as severe as elsewhere. “In the present day,” says Mr. Stuart Poole, “locusts suddenly appear in the cultivated land, coming from the desert in a column of great length. They fly across the country, darkening the air with their compact ranks, which are undisturbed by the constant attacks of kites, crows, and vultures, and making a strange whizzing sound, like that of fire, or many distant wheels. Where they alight they devour every green thing, even stripping the trees of their leaves. Rewards are offered for their destruction; but no labour can seriously reduce their numbers” (Dict. of the Bible, vol. ii., p. 887). C. Niebuhr witnessed two invasions—in 1761 and 1762; Denon witnessed another about the year 1800; and Tischendorf saw one recently. They always enter Egypt either from the south or from the east, and necessarily come with a wind, since they cannot possibly fly any considerable distance without one. It is probable that at different times different varieties of the locust visit the country; but all varieties are almost equally destructive. After the loss of their cattle by murrain and hail, and the ruin of the flax and barley crops by the latter agency, nothing was wanting to complete the desolation of the country and the impoverishment of its inhabitants but the ruin of the wheat and doora crops, which the locusts speedily effected.
(1) I have hardened . . . the heart of his servants.—They, too, had first hardened their own hearts (Exodus 9:34), and so deserved a penal hardening. A certain amount of responsibility rested on them. Had they allowed the miracles to have their full natural effect upon their minds, they would have been convinced that resistance was useless, and would have impressed their views upon the Pharaoh. Even in the most absolute governments public opinion has weight, and the general sentiment of the Court almost always carries the sovereign with it.
That I might shew these my signs.—There is nothing derogatory to the Divine Nature in a penal hardening being, as it were, utilised to increase the glory of God, and affect for good future generations of His people. The accumulation of plague upon plague, which the obduracy of Pharaoh and his subjects brought about, was of vast importance in presenting to Israel, and even to the surrounding nations, a manifestation of the tremendous power of God, calculated to impress them as nothing else would have done.
They shall eat the residue of that which is escaped . . . every tree.—Comp. Exodus 9:32. The description of Joel has never been surpassed: “A fire devoureth before them, and behind them a flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape them” (Joel 2:3). Comp. Volney (50s.100): “When their swarms appear, everything green vanishes instantaneously from the fields, as if a curtain were rolled up; the trees and plants stand leafless, and nothing is seen but naked boughs and stalks.” Very graphic is Joel again in respect of this last feature: “He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white” (Joel 1:7). Nor is it only shrubs, but even trees, that suffer. “They are particularly injurious to the palm-trees,” says Burckhardt; “these they strip of everv leaf and green particle, the trees remaining like skeletons, with bare branches.”
Which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen.—Only one notice of locusts has been found in the native records.
He turned himself, and went out.—It seems to be meant that Moses did not on this occasion wait to see what effect his menace would have on Pharaoh. He “knew that Pharaoh would not yet fear the Lord” (Exodus 9:30).
Who are they that shall go?—Pharaoh had not hitherto raised this question. He had known well enough that the demand extended to all the people (Exodus 8:8); but now he pretends that there had been an ambiguity, and requires that it shall be cleared up. Moses gives him an answer (Exodus 10:9) which takes away all further pretence of doubt.
With our flocks and with our herds.—The family of Jacob brought numerous flocks and herds into Egypt (Genesis 47:1). These had, no doubt, increased, notwithstanding the oppression, and at the time of the Exodus must have been very numerous. The requirement to “take a lamb for an house” (Exodus 12:2) on the institution of the Passover involved the killing, on a single day, of 200,000 lambs. Even after this the flocks and herds which went out with them (Exodus 12:38) were “very much cattle.”
Evil is before you.—Heb., evil is before your faces—i.e., you contemplate doing me a mischief, by depriving me of the services of so large a body of labourers.
That ye did desire.—There was no ground for this reproach. Moses and Aaron had always demanded the release of the entire nation (“let my people go”); and nations are composed of women and children as much and as essentially as they are of adult males.
They did eat every herb of the land.—“When these animals arrive in swarms,” says Clarke, “the whole vegetable produce disappears. Nothing escapes them, from the leaves of the forest to the herbs of the plain” (Travels, pp. 446, 447). “It is sufficient,” observes a traveller in Spain, “if these terrible columns stop half an hour on a spot, for everything growing on it—vines, olive-trees, and corn—to be entirely destroyed. After they have passed, nothing remains but the large branches and the roots, which, being underground, have escaped their voracity.”
All the fruit of the trees.—Egypt was famous for its fruits, which consisted of figs, grapes, olives, mulberries, pomegranates, dates, pears, plums, apples, peaches, and the produce of the persea, and the nebk, or sidr. The fruit of the nebk would be ripe in March, and the blossom-buds of the other fruit-trees would be formed, or even opening. On the damage which locusts do to fruit-trees, see the comment on Exodus 10:5, and add the following:—“When the weeds in the vineyards do not supply them with sufficient nutriment, they completely strip the bark and buds off the young twigs, so that these shoots remain throughout the summer as white as chalk, without producing fresh foliage” (Pallas, Travels, vol. ii., p. 425).
Which the hail had left.—See Exodus 9:25, and comp. Psalm 105:32-33 :—“He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land; he smote their vines also, and their fig trees, and brake the trees of their coasts.”
I have sinned . . . —Comp. Exodus 9:27. This confession is an improvement upon the former one: (1) as acknowledging a double fault—“against the Lord and against you; “and (2) as free from any attempt to put the blame, either wholly or in part, upon others. It was probably sincere at the time; but the feeling from which it sprang was short-lived.
The Red sea.—Heb., the sea of weeds, or of rushes. The Red Sea probably acquired this name among the Hebrews from the fact that in the time of Moses its north-western recess communicated with a marshy tract, extending as far as the Bitter Lakes, and abounding in aquatic plants of a luxuriant growth. (Comp. Exodus 2:3, where the same term designates the water-plants of the Nile.)
There remained not one locust . . . —Niebuhr says of locusts in Arabia:—“Souvent il en reste beaucoup après le départ général” (Description de l’ Arabie, p. 153). But, on the other hand, there are times when the whole swarm takes its departure at once. “A wind from the south-west,” says Morier, “which had brought them, so completely drove them forwards that not a vestige of them was to be seen two hours afterwards” (Second Journey, p. 98).
Exodus 10:21And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.THE NINTH PLAGUE.
(21-23) The ninth plague, like the third and sixth, was sent without any previous warning. It consisted in a “thick darkness,” which may have been brought about by means of the Khamsin, or “Wind of the Desert,” which frequently blows about the time of the vernal equinox, and brings with it such clouds of a fine impalpable sand that the light of the sun is obscured, and an effect produced which some travellers have compared to “the most gloomy night.” Or it may have been a shutting out of the sun’s rays by dense fog and cloud of a more ordinary character; though in that case there must have been something in the visitation very much exceeding any known instance of such darkness. “They saw not one another,” we are told, “for three days” (Exodus 10:23). The darkness was one which “might be felt” (Exodus 10:21). Such a preternatural continuance of absolutely impenetrable “blackness of darkness” would cause to any man a feeling of intense alarm and horror. To the Egyptians it would be peculiarly painful and terrible. Ra, the sun-god, was among the principal objects of their worship, especially in the Delta, where Heliopolis and Pithoni were cities dedicated to him. Darkness was a creation of Set—the Evil Principle, the destroyer of Osiris—and of Apophis, the Great Serpent, the impeder of souls in the lower world. It would have seemed to the Egyptians that Ra was dead, that Set had triumphed over his brother, that Apophis had encircled the world with his dark folds, and plunged it in eternal night. Hence Pharaoh’s early call for Moses, and permission that the people should depart, with their families (Exodus 10:24): a concession which, however, was marred by the proviso, “Only let your flocks and herds be stayed.”
(21) Darkness which may be felt.—Heb., one shall grasp darkness. The Authorised Version seems to give the true meaning, which is found also in the LXX. and the Vulg. The idea is an exaggeration of that instinctive feeling which makes us speak of “thick darkness.” The general voice of mankind confirms the use of the phrase.
Neither rose any from his place.—Comp. Exodus 16:29. No one quitted his house. Mr. Millington imagines that they all sat “glued to their seats” (Plagues of Egypt, p. 159), but this savours of over-literalism. It is not necessary to suppose that they had no artificial light, or that they ceased to move from chamber to chamber. What the writer intends to note is that all business and all intercourse with neighbours was suspended. No one quitted the house in which he was when the darkness began.
All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.—The visitation, whatever it was, did not extend to the land of Goshen. (Comp. Exodus 8:22-24; Exodus 9:4-7; Exodus 9:26.)
Thou shalt die.—Egyptian kings had the power of life and death, but rarely exercised it arbitrarily, or without trial. Very long and elaborate judicial processes have been found among the Egyptian remains. Still, no doubt, a monarch could put to death whomsoever he pleased; and so Egyptian courtiers were wont to acknowledge that they had lived to old age “by the favour of the king” (Brugsch, History of Egypt, vol. i., p. 92).